***½ out of five stars

The roots of everyone’s favorite interplanetary scoundrel are explored in the latest cinematic journey into the Star Wars Universe.

A young Han Solo (played by Alden Ehrenreich) left his crime-dominated home world to join the Imperial Navy but has failed. Fate leads him and a furry beast named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to join a gang of smugglers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson). It turns out that Han’s former love interest Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) works for Beckett’s boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). As the team is set to pull off a major heist, Qi’ra recommends the services of the infamous Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his ship the Millennium Falcon. But not everything is as it seems…

Solo is a film that, not unlike its title character, has had a checkered past. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (best known for The Lego Movie) were hired as directors but left in the middle of filming (allegedly due to creative differences) and replaced with Ron Howard. The result is that there is an inevitable unevenness to the film and a lack of ambition (particularly when compared to the recent The Last Jedi). The film plays things safe, and it does not add as much to the Star Wars mythology as one would hope. While the special effects are top notch as usual, much of the film either looks too dark or overplays one color at a time (blue for scenes set in cool locations, orange to emphasis heat, etc.).

There are still plenty of highlights, however. Ehrenreich and Glover do a fine job playing the younger versions of characters originated by Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams, respectively. Harrelson’s Beckett and the CGI critter Rio Durant (voiced by Iron Man director Jon Favreau) are both very entertaining. Yet, Lando’s droid companion L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is perhaps the most memorable character. She feels that droids are treated as slaves by owners and yearns to find a way to free her robotic brethren. This element serves both as a timely social commentary and as a new angle to the franchise.

Solo is far from the best film set in that galaxy far, far away. That said, those who want to know more about the history of Han, Chewie and Lando need look no further. The next cinematic journey in the Star Wars Universe, Episode IX, is set for release next year. But hopefully, if Disney and Lucasfilm learn any lesson from Solo, it’s that there needs to be a little breathing room between the releases of new Star Wars films. Even the Force cannot provide a blockbuster every year.


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